Page images
PDF
EPUB

words? We have, for the first time perhaps in human history, revealed sharply and distinctly what that element in human nature must be which to the majority of mankind is the origin and organ of Religion, and which it is so transparently evident that Mr. Mill had not.* Hitherto we have seen it in its highest development in the saints, and had opportunity to learn what it positively is. But so natural does it seem to man, so much does it, in ordinary men and women, harmonize with and shade off into the moral, affectional and ratiocinative faculties, that it was easy to mistake their action for its own. Now it seems possible to learn more of it by the aid of the complete self-revelation of a very noble mind, wherein, owing to almost unique circumstances, the whole element has been eliminated; and we are left to mark what are the tracts of human nature which it normally covers, and which are found to lie bare like the sea-shore when that mighty tide has flowed away back to its bed. We behold one of the keenest intellects of this or any century, and, on the human side, one of the tenderest and most capacious of hearts-a man whose moral sense (whatever were his theories of its nature) quivered with intensest life, and was true as needle to the pole of the loftiest justice to man, to woman and to brute, who yet, great philosopher as he was, when he comes to deal with a subject on which the rude tinker of Bedford has instructed the world, writes like a blind man discoursing of colours, or a deaf man criticising the contortions of a violinist wasted on the delusion of music. When he speaks of the Utility of Religion, he confounds, as if they were identical, those realms of human nature which public opinion or human authority may sway; and those which, in the solemn hours of visitation from the Divine Spirit, fall under the inner law of Conscience and of Love. And when he writes of the Consciousness of God, all he has to say of it, is to refer to the metaphysical subtleties of Cousin about the laws of perception, and to add contemptuously:

* Let it be understood that, in speaking of the Religious Sentiment as deficient in Mr. Mill's nature, I use the term expressly in the sense of that spiritual organ whereby man obtains direct perception of the Living God. In the broader meaning of the word, implying general reverence and tenderness towards all things noble and holy,—a sense of the mystery surrounding human life, and a fervent devotion to the ideal of Duty,–Mr. Mill was assuredly an eminently religious man. How it came to pass that such

soul could by any mortal hand be debarred from the happiness of direct recognition of God, is one of the riddles wherewith the spiritual as well as the physical world is full. As he himself says, “it is possible to starve an instinct ;” and, as Mr. Upton has well explained in his profound paper on the “Experience Philosophy and Religious Belief,” beside all other conditions on which spiritual knowledge is obtained, it is needful “ that the understanding should be freed from all tyrannous misconceptions which preclude or distort the intellectual cognizance of spiritual truth.” Nothing short of such a Divine blow as smote St. Paul would have been strong enough to overthrow the “ tyrannous misconceptions" wherewith Mr. Mill's education must have fenced his mind. I need scarcely add that, in my view, the absence of conscious recognition of the relations between God and the soul is very far indeed from implying the non-existence of such relations, or the loss of some of the richest blessings which they bestow.

“It would be a waste of time to examine any of these theories in detail. While each has its particular logical fallacies, they labour under the common infirmity that one man cannot, by proclaiming with ever so much confidence that he perceives an object, convince other people that they see it too. .... When no claim is set up to any peculiar gift, but we are told that all of us are as capable as the prophet of seeing what he sees, feeling what he feels—nay, that we actually do so—and when the utmost effort of which we are capable fails to make us aware of what we are told we perceive, this supposed universality of intuition is but

“The dark lantern of the spirit
Which none see by but those who bear it;'

and the bearers may be asked to consider whether it is not more likely that they are mistaken as to the origin of an impression on their minds, than that others are ignorant of the

very existence of an impression on theirs."*

The friends who can have told Mr. Mill that he saw, or was capable of seeing, religious truth as a Tauler or a Fenelon saw it, or of feeling on the subject as even much less religious men are accustomed to feel, were bold indeed. It may have been a hard task to say that such was not the case. Nobody could have ventured upon it during his life or even after his death, had he not thrown down the challenge, and elaborately explained to us the way in which his religious instincts were destroyed by his ruthless father. But now the matter stands plain; and I confess I look with some confidence to the results of the act of the elder Mill in extirpating the organ of religion from his child's heart, as serving to reveal to us the place it naturally takes among human faculties. Even at the cost of all the desolation the book will spread around, it is perhaps well that this dreadful experiment should once for all have been tried, and not in any “vile body” of fool or egotist, but in the person of one of the ablest, and, in all things beside, one of the very noblest of men.

* P. 163.

That lesson, then, is this: that, as we did not first gain our knowledge of God from the external world, so we shall never obtain our truest and most reliable idea of Him from the inductions which Science may help us to draw from it. Spiritual things must be spiritually discerned, or we must be content never to discern them truly at all. In man's soul alone, so far as we may yet discover, is the moral nature of his Maker revealed, as the sun is mirrored in a mountain lake. While all the woods and moors and pastures are quivering in its heat, we only behold the great orb reflected in the breast of that deep, solitary pool. If (as we must needs hold for truth) there be a moral purpose running through all the physical creation, its scope is too enormous, its intricacy too deep, the cycle of its revolution, like that of some great sidereal Period, too immense for our brief and blind observation. It must be enough for us to learn what God bids us to be of just and merciful and loving, and then judge what must be His justice, His mercy and His love. That Being whom the sinful soul meets in the hour of its penitence—and the grateful heart in its plenitude of thanksgiving—and every man who really prays in the moments of supreme communionthat God is One concerning whom the very attempt to prove that He is infinitely good seems almost sacrilege. It is as Goodness, as Holiness, Love and Pity ineffable, that He has revealed Himself. Shall we treat all that we have so learned on our knees as idle self-delusions, and barricade with iron shutters the windows of the soul which look out heavenward, and this in the name of sense and reason ? Nay, but let us fling those windows wide open, and again and yet again seek to renew the celestial vision. These sacred faculties of our nature have a right to their exercise, as well as those which tell us of the properties of solids, fluids and gases, of light and electricity. Their reports may be false ? So may be everything we call knowledge, every report of the senses, every conclusion of the logical intellect. A persistent and widely recognized fact of human consciousness may be illusory; but there is no better proof to be had even of the existence of an external world.*

* An excellent illustration of this subject, expressing very closely my own view of it, is to be found in the following letter, published in the Spectator, Sept. 5, 1874:

“Will you give me space for an illustration in support of that which, apart from revelation, is surely the best proof of all of the existence of God,—the existence, viz., of that religious instinct in man which, on Professor Tyndall's and Mr. H. Spencer's own scientific principles, should be the subjective response to some objective reality, the adaptation of the creature man to his "envi

« PreviousContinue »